The state of Hawaii is comprised of eight populated islands (and many uninhabited ones in the 2,400 km archipelago), with the majority of the 1,420,491 population (US Census estimate for 2018) living on Oahu, in Honolulu. The public schools (Kindergarten through to grade 12 or K-12) are run by a centralised Department of Education (DOE) and higher education operates through the University of Hawaii System (three universities and seven community colleges).

As early as 1971, University of Hawaii-Manoa (UHM) pioneered distance education initiatives that are relevant to this day. A communication infrastructure provided by the ALOHA network system permitted an early form of distance education. Because of the expense, the DOE imposed a moratorium on K-12 schools that kept them from buying or leasing mainframe computers. However, remote access to the ALOHA network via teletype was available for distance education to neighboring islands and other areas of Oahu.

In March 2020, the DOE schools and the University of Hawaii transitioned swiftly to online learning as shelter-in-place became mandatory.  At the University of Hawaii, a learning management system, Laulima, was already in place and in use, as was Zoom for synchronous video conferencing. For example, many faculty members in the College of Education and in the Department of Computer Sciences had been teaching online extensively and were assisted by technology units devoted solely to helping faculty with online instruction.  

At the time of the shift, faculty from some departments faced challenges, particularly in teaching large lecture courses with labs, design and arts courses (requiring specialised equipment on campus) and such fields as physical education, requiring the development of new assignments and innovations in assessing students’ performances. The Technology and Distance Education unit in the College of Education provided support for many of these additional needs.  

Challenges for K-12 teachers included learning to use the technologies, setting up “classroom” spaces at home, students’ access to computers and WIFI, among the myriad of issues faced by teachers everywhere.  Special Education teachers needed to find ways to provide individual support for students with special needs.  

Due to effective “shelter in place” measures including online teaching and tourism closures (visitors and returning residents must adhere to a 14-day indoor quarantine), Hawaii has maintained relatively low Covid-19 infection rates, with 1,711 documented cases as of 27 June 2020. Our official school year ended in May, and we are cautiously optimistic about returning to class in some form in Fall 2020.


By Marie Iding, University of Hawaii, Department of Educational Psychology and Martha E. Crosby, University of Hawaii, Department of Information and Computer Sciences